Tuesday, May 10, 2005

A code of ethics?

This entire issue saddens me. In a recent post I noted the recent rush in requests for speaking on ethics. Yesterday I got a breathless call from an exec in Arizona, telling me that her lawyer had told her that her nonprofit needed ethics policies or there would be hell to pay with the IRS. I tried to calm her down, sent her to a couple of places online with sample policies, and told her that there will little likelihood that the IRS would be banging on her door, at least in this fiscal year.....

The whole issue of having to discuss and codify our ethics as organizations depresses me. Not because we shouldn't behave ethically, but because it should be second nature. I know, I know, ethical issues are not black and white--there is a LOT of gray, but that's just the point--you can't codify gray. The famous quote from Justice Stewart on obscenity which more or less was: "I know it when I see it" applies here: we nearly always know what the right thing to do is, the tough part is actually doing it.

In a related but total aside, I laughed out loud at the news of a Texas legislator who is trying to ban sexually suggestive moves from high school cheerleading. Good luck. While I don't think I qualify as a prude, I too am unhappy about some of the stuff I see from 15-year-old teenagers at football games, but could I define it? In writing? No chance. And would my definition be the same as someone 20 years older than me or 20 years younger? Nope.

So it is with ethics. You know it when you see it, and you get uncomfortable when you see unethical behavior. But to put it in a policy? What are you going to say? Let's not lie, cheat, or steal? Well, duh, I would hope not. Let's act ethically toward everyone? Again, I would have already hoped so......

My real fear here is that organizations will develop a policy, adopt it, and breath a sigh of relief, saying "Whew, that's done!", and then forget about actually behaving ethically. Then, when something bad gets brought to light, they'll say, "But we had a policy!" as an excuse from having to do good oversight.

I dunno, it just bothers me.

On another note, Firefox now has a security hole. Blah.

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